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How Isolation Is Making Recovery Harder for Those with Substance Use Disorder

Woman in recovery looking out the window

Imagine taking five swimming lessons and then trying to swim across the English Channel alone. You know the basics, understand the concept, but you haven’t built up the stamina or strength to go it alone.

“That is how many people new in recovery are feeling right now,” says Jane Barnes, VP & CEO of  Memorial Hermann Prevention and Recovery Center (PaRC).  “While in treatment, they are introduced to the 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and given the basic tools and education to begin their sobriety; however, they still need to continue working on their recovery every day outside of treatment.”

When aftercare goes virtual

For substance use disorder, aftercare recommendations usually consist of attending one aftercare meeting a week at PaRC, daily AA meetings and meeting with a sponsor. COVID-19 has changed all that. Many patients discharge home, alone and unsure, only to find most 12-step meetings are now being done virtually, resulting in an increased feeling of loneliness and disconnect.   This lack of connection can increase the sense of isolation and fuel temptation.

The connection between addiction and social isolation

Studies over the years have shown the connection between social isolation and addiction, proving that isolation can lead to poorer treatment outcomes and the possibility of criminal behavior. A study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information stated, “In early recovery, this aloneness may be acute to the extent an alcoholic/addict is not connected to other sober peers and able to commiserate with him or her, appreciate each step taken in sobriety, or encourage him or her in the same direction of responsible living. Social isolation also increased the risk of committing violent crimes.”

Although COVID-19 presents a definite challenge to people battling addiction, Barnes emphasizes there are ways to combat the triggers and isolation, and shares some proven tips.

Tips for Persons New in Recovery:  

  • Get active in your recovery; sign up for as many AA meetings or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings on Zoom as possible to find a group you really connect with.
  • Find a sponsor; talk to him/her daily; utilize Zoom, FaceTime, House Party and chat apps.
  • Study AA’s Big Book.
  • Set up a daily schedule and follow it. Include meditation, exercise and study as part of it.
  • If employed, find out if your company offers free therapy or wellness options via their Employee Assistance Program (EAP) .

Staying sober during a pandemic is possible

“Just like social distancing, mask wearing and handwashing can help protect you from COVID-19, following the steps above can protect you from relapsing,” says Barnes.  “However, if you are thinking about picking up that first drink or drug, call a sober friend or the PaRC.”

If you or someone you love needs assistance with substance use disorder, please visit parc.memorialhermann.org to schedule an assessment.

 

Sources

Fox News. (2020). Coronavirus causing rise in drug, alcohol relapses among people in recovery, expert says. Retrieved April 8, 2020 at https://www.foxnews.com/health/coronavirus-poses-risk-relapse-among-individuals-recovery-expert-says

National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2015). Alone on the Inside: The Impact of Social Isolation and Helping Others on AOD Use and Criminal Activity. Retrieved April 8, 2020 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5889144/

Published in the 1930s, the Big Book is used in conjunction with AA (Alcoholics Anonymous).  It was written by the founding members of AA and is a how-to on what to do to recover from alcoholism. Members of AA are encouraged to read it daily and follow the teachings.  It discusses the 12-Step Program. The goal of the book is to get individuals to commit to a program of recovery.